Like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, there’s pieces of the Carson National Forest across a sizeable patch of northern New Mexico. There’s a chunk up near Chama, on the Coloradan border, that runs all the way down to El Rito. There’s a slender strand to the west. And across the waters of the Rio Grande, there’s some sizeable portions north and south of Taos, set into the steep-sided folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The last time Tim and I were there, snow restricted play – so we dipped into the ramshackle communities of Vallecitos and Plaza Cañon, north east of El Rito. This time, 6 weeks later and with summer making its entrance, we were able to push further north to quiet and remote high pastures, up at 10 500ft (3200m).
The lower flanks of the Carson National Forest are dusty and arid, straddling the threshhold between junipers and ponderosas.
Further up, it’s a maze of primitive dirt roads…
… and high pastures.
A Skunk Cabbage, so named for its odorous flowers.
The scale of the forest is impressive – as is its network of barely-travelled trails.
The logistics of bikepacking here are easy too, thanks to the abundance of water.
Tim brought along his Steripen Freedom UV filter. Its lithium battery is USB chargeable – a neat little device.
Consultation of the map required.
A spaghetti noodle of possibilities.
And, there’s no shortage of good campsites either. My current setup: a 6 Moon Designs Gatewood cape – just 11oz/312g – with a Tyvek ground sheet and a -1C North Face sleeping bag.
Aspen country. Come autumn, the place will be ablaze with colour.
The kitchen. Cooking over his homemade caldera stove, Tim adds some coconut oil to his porridge – which packs both a tonne of energy for its weight, as well as lending a tasty richness to food.
Jeremy goes for ‘hippy tacos’ – laced with guacamole, hemp seeds and tahini.
… and his steed: a faithful Marin Pine Mountain, clad with Revelate bags and shod with 2.4 WTB Mutano Raptors and weighing in at 25lbs. Gear, including food for two days (but no water,) adds another 20lbs.
The terrain in the Carson National Forest covers the whole gamut – from rutted trails to off piste singletrack and graded roads.
It makes for idyllic riding, linking one meadow to the next.
Stream crossings provide good excuses to go barefoot.
Up on the high plateaux – 10500ft and still climbing.
Unfortunately, Jeremy’s back gives in without warning. So bouts of pushing…
… and recovery naps required.
Tim’s lunch stash. Health bars, cranberries, isotonic mixes, baking chocolate, squeezy agave nectar and almonds…
Then it’s back to pushing for Jeremy…
We wend our way through pines, spruce, aspens and ponderosas. It’s easy going riding, but no less enjoyable for it.
The Carson National Forest is a meeting point for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Continental Divide Trail . By the time hikers reach El Rito, they’re a month into a half year journey that will take them from Mexico to Canada, along the spine of the Rockies. The equivalent bike route is raced in as quick as 15 days.
Jeremy heads back to the car to recoup. Tim and I go in search of singletrack.
Another thicket of oderous Skunk Cabbages.
A newly finished trail leads us down to the Cajillon lakes, in turn linking up with the El Rito river, which we follow downstream back down to the car.
This is my second trip to the area. A scheme to bus up to Chama and ride back to Santa Fe, via the jigsaw pieces of the Carson National Forest, is brewing…
There’s a good access point to the Carson National Forest from El Rito (6875ft/2100m). You can park at the church, or the Blue Bus runs there from Santa Fe, via Espanola, during the weekdays. There’s space for two bikes onboard.
We drove 5 miles or so north beyond the El Rito, camping inside the boundaries of the forest. Then we climbed due north via Cañon Largo, returning via the Cajilon Lakes and Caño Canyon.
Within this piece of the Carson National Forest (the El Rito and Cajilon districts) there’s everything from well graded dirt roads to primitive, rock strewn affairs, looping up into the higher altitude meadows of the forest – 10 000ft/3 000m plus – and back down again. Plenty of scope for a few days of remote riding. Water is abundant, as are camping spots.
No panniers. No backpack. It’s not superlight by any means, but it can get me everywhere I want to go…
Porcelain Rocket Single Compartment Custom Framebag
Porcelain Rocket Mission Control Handlebar Setup
Revelate Designs Gas Tank
Carradice Super C Saddlebag
Bagman2 QR with Expedition Support
note: The Bagman2 QR with Expedition Support suits me well, as it allows me to carry my Carradice Saddlebag – a cavernous bag that will fit my DSLR camera. Otherwise, I use a lighter, more minimal and rackless Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket Seat Pack.